Gifts from Retirement Plans during Life

Likely your IRA, 401(k), or other retirement fund is one of your largest assets. If the fund is larger than you and your family will likely need for retirement security, you may have considered using some portion of it for a charitable gift. From a tax standpoint, that could be a wise move. The manner in which you structure your gift depends on your age and the type of plan you have.


You can withdraw money from your retirement fund — whether that is an IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or other comparable plan — and then contribute it to a charity. The money you withdraw will be added to your taxable income, but you will receive a charitable deduction for the same amount. If the amount you are able to deduct on your federal and state tax returns equals the withdrawal, you will make the gift at little or no tax cost. Don’t do this if you are younger than 59-½ because the amount withdrawn would be subject to a 10 percent penalty tax as well as being added to your taxable income.

How It Works

  1. You take a distribution from your qualified retirement plan or IRA that would be included in your gross income.
  2. You make a gift of the distribution or a gift of other assets that may be equal in value to the distribution.
  3. You receive an offsetting charitable deduction.
  4. If you are 70-½ or older, read on to learn more about the IRA rollover opportunity that may be available to you.


  • You may draw on perhaps your largest source of assets to support the UW programs that are important to you.
  • The distribution offsets your minimum required distribution.
  • If you use appreciated securities instead of cash from your distribution to make your gift, you’ll avoid the capital-gain tax on the appreciation.


You may authorize the administrator of your IRA to transfer funds (roll funds over) directly to one or more charities. The amount you transfer will count toward your mandatory distribution and will not be added to your taxable income.

The total amount of the transfers in any one year cannot exceed $100,000. Also, a transfer cannot be for a donor-advised fund, supporting organization, or private foundation. It can, however, be for any designated purpose at the UW: an endowment or to fulfill any outstanding pledge.

The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act that became law in 2015 made this special “rollover” provision permanent.


The direct transfer (“rollover” provision) described above can be done only with an IRA. However, if you have another plan such as a 401(k) or 403(b), you could transfer money from that plan to an IRA and then initiate a direct transfer to charity from your IRA. Some people, upon retirement, convert their employer retirement plan to a self-directed IRA anyway.

As long as your money remains in a plan other than an IRA, you can follow the procedure described above for those younger than 70-½: withdraw funds from the plan and then contribute them to the charity, in which case the deduction usually offsets all or most of the tax on the distribution.

If you own some appreciated stock, you may contribute that stock to charity and then withdraw cash from your retirement plan that is equal in value to the stock. Suppose, for instance, that you contribute stock worth $50,000 with a cost basis of $20,000. Then you withdraw $50,000 from your retirement plan and use that $50,000 to repurchase the stock, stepping up the basis to $50,000 and reducing the taxable gain if you sell the stock in the future. Assuming you are able to use the deduction, it would completely or substantially offset the tax on the amount withdrawn, and the withdrawn amount would count toward your mandatory distribution requirement.


When individuals are named as beneficiaries of retirement funds (other than from a Roth IRA), the distributions are taxed as ordinary income. On the other hand, when those beneficiaries receive bequests of appreciated property such as securities or real estate they are not taxed on the gain that accrued before your death. Thus, when a person wants to make end-of-life gifts to both loved ones and a charity, it is more tax efficient to name the charity as a beneficiary of all or a portion of the remaining funds in the retirement account. The charity, being tax exempt, will pay no income tax on the distributions, and your loved one will pay no income tax on the appreciated securities or real estate.

Here is a comparison of the potential tax savings for loved ones in the 37 percent income-tax bracket, who receive appreciated securities versus retirement-plan assets. In this example the appreciated assets sold within a year after death (experiencing modest appreciation of about 4 percent):

Retirement Plan versus Appreciated Securities: Which Should go to Loved Ones and Which to Charity?

Your assets:

  • $500,000 appreciated securities
  • $500,000 retirement plan
If you give:

  • appreciated securities to loved ones
  • retirement plan to charity
If you give:

  • appreciated securities to charity
  • retirement plan to loved ones
Taxes paid by charity:

Net to charity:





Taxes paid by loved ones
*Net to gift loved ones
(capital-gain tax) $497,000
(federal income tax) $315,000

*37 percent income-tax bracket, 15 percent capital gain
In this example your loved ones get almost 50 percent more when you give retirement funds to charity. That’s a clear advantage with inheritance.

How can I change my beneficiary designation?

The procedure is very simple and is unnecessary to amend your will or living trust agreement. Just request a change-of-beneficiary form from your plan administrator and indicate the percentages for family members and charity.

You can make a gift by beneficiary designation from an IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or any other comparable plan.

Next Steps

  • Contact us to learn more about this gift plan or other options
  • Request an e-Brochure with more information about this gift (brochure title: Charitable Tax Planning with Retirement Funds).